A Nurse with a Gun

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Rosa Parks Remembered

I awoke today to learn that Mrs. Rosa Parks had passed on to her maker during the night. While some will disagree with Mrs. Park's almost untouchable iconic status in American society, we must remember that her firm resolution on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama was a seminal point in American history.

At that time, Jim Crow laws in place since the post-Civil War Reconstruction separated blacks and whites on buses, in restaurants and public accommodations throughout the South, while in the North, legally sanctioned racial discrimination kept blacks out of many jobs and neighborhoods. In the face of these realities, Mrs. Parks, a seamstress, and an active member of the local chapter of the NAACP, was riding on a city bus on Dec. 1, 1955, when a white man demanded her seat. Mrs. Parks refused, despite laws requiring blacks to give up their seats to whites. Two black Montgomery women had been arrested earlier that year on the same charge, but Mrs. Parks was jailed. She also was also fined $14.

The arrest of Mrs. Parks spurred a 381 day boycott of the public transit system by black people, organized by a young Baptist minister, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. This boycott led to a court ruling desegregating public transportation in Montgomery, but it wasn't until the 1964 Civil Rights Act that all public accommodations nationwide were desegregated. Having recieved death threats and having lost her job, Mrs. Parks relocated from Alabama to Detroit in 1957.

Looking back in 1988, Mrs. Parks said she worried that young black people took legal equality for granted. Older blacks, she said "have tried to shield young people from what we have suffered. And in so doing, we seem to have a more complacent attitude. We must double and redouble our efforts to try to say to our youth, to try to give them an inspiration, an incentive and the will to study our heritage and to know what it means to be black in America today."

At a celebration in her honor that same year, she said: "I am leaving this legacy to all of you ... to bring peace, justice, equality, love and a fulfillment of what our lives should be. Without vision, the people will perish, and without courage and inspiration, dreams will die - the dream of freedom and peace."

In my work as a nurse, I encounter and work with many inspiring and dignified black elders. Elders who answer my questions "Yessuh" or "Nosuh" as second nature. I gently tell them my name was Xavier, not "Suh" and then address them as "Sir" and "Mahm" while tending their wounds. It's a delicate waltz of trust and respect begun by Mrs. Parks, and still being danced today. It is my privilege to have participated in it.

Godspeed Mrs. Rosa.



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